The beauty, luxury and glamorising effect of Art Deco is what makes it stand apart from other styles, says a Napier design historian.

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins said Napier's character, its frivolity and fun, could be attributed to Art Deco style.

"Art Deco was a style that made people feel glamorous and there aren't many small towns in New Zealand in which you can say you feel glamorous."

The style's true origins could be traced back to an exhibition held in Paris in the 1920s, when the French glamorised different styles around the world.

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"Art Deco is a flashy style and that works really well in its favour because there are no real rules; you can join anything together in any combination you like as long as it felt, in 1925, like it was modern, like it was now."

One of Napier's iconic Art Deco buildings, the redeveloped Napier Fire Board's Central Fire Station, latterly the Art Deco Trust, Tennyson St, Napier. Photo / File
One of Napier's iconic Art Deco buildings, the redeveloped Napier Fire Board's Central Fire Station, latterly the Art Deco Trust, Tennyson St, Napier. Photo / File

The historian said one of the common misconceptions about Art Deco style was that it was a radical solution to the architecture of a city.

"It wasn't conservative but it certainly wasn't a radical rethinking of how a city could be. They just widened the roads and built little square boxes with pretty fronts on them."

While Art Deco architecture held true to authentic colours and shapes, Art Deco Festival celebrations did not reflect true fashion in that era, he said.

"You've got all these women running around in what are basically dresses from Princess Diana's wedding, with the 80s revival for the dropped waist, and there are very few people in authentic costume."

True Art Deco fashion was incredibly clingy and figure-hugging in style, he said.

"Unless you were about 16 years old, as a woman, you're not going to fit them anymore. By the time 1931 came along they'd long since gone away from those boyish dress towards a clinging, movie star look.

The Art Deco entrance to the National Tobacco Company Building, Rothmans, Napier. Photo / NZPA
The Art Deco entrance to the National Tobacco Company Building, Rothmans, Napier. Photo / NZPA

"This was fuelled in France and New York by cocaine use, which kept you skinny. That wasn't happening in Napier in 1931 I don't think."

However, he said the festival had evolved to encompass far more than just Art Deco style.

"I've long since decided not to get hung up about Art Deco Weekend. It's fun. I'm a historian so it would be a very long, long day before Art Deco turns into anything authentic but it shouldn't be either."

Mr Lloyd Jenkins said Napier city had also claimed the style in its own way.

"I think what Napier has created out of the Art Deco they have got is, in its own way, unique. The great thing about Napier Art Deco is it was relatively inexpensive expression.

The Art Deco buildings in Napier add glamour to the city, says Douglas Lloyd Jenkins. Photo / File
The Art Deco buildings in Napier add glamour to the city, says Douglas Lloyd Jenkins. Photo / File

"The original Art Deco in Paris was all about total luxury whereas what we got was a small town New Zealand version and there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world."

As far as being the Art Deco capital of the world, Mr Lloyd Jenkins said it was just as true as "clean, green New Zealand".

"If you go to Miami or New York you realise the scale of those places is much bigger and they have much more. It's clever marketing and good on them for it but it's not true."